When it comes to building a network that aligns with your goals, I’ll go so far as to say that you are unlikely to reach those goals without a supporting network.
Not All Relationships Are Created Equal
The biggest mistake that people make is trying to networking with everyone, i.e. not being smart or strategic in who they connect with. If your focus is to walk into a room and make sure everyone gets your business card, you might as well stay home. But if you can instead focus on having a few good conversations, and truly connecting with people, good will flow.
Everyone you know and everyone you meet is differently able and willing to help you. I’m sure you have friends you call when you need an ear, or a shoulder to cry on- and other friends you call when you need a kick in the seat of your pants. Get very clear on what you are asking for and be smart about who you ask. The closer you are with someone, the more you can ask for. The guy behind you in the checkout line at Target is unlikely to care about your goals.
You Must Be Someone That Others Want to Have in Their Network
There are people in your network that you are proud to be associated with and would gladly introduce them to others you know. And then there are the others. For example, if you know someone who is always late, never prepared, or is just a constant whiner, how would you feel about recommending her for a job in your company? Believe me, everyone will remember who let her in the door. While it is true that no one is everyone’s cup of tea, there are some basics that we must all march to. Be of good character and be good at what you do. Pretty sure you know what I mean.
You Must Carefully Cultivate and Manage Your Reputation
What do people say about you when you are not there? If you think no one says anything about you, let me offer you a ride on my unicorn. What do you want people to say about you? What you do want to be known for or known as? We give little or no thought to those kind of questions. But part of your ability to build relationships is the buzz about you inside and outside of your professional circles. Think about people in your network right now who aren’t trustworthy or are always finding the black lining in every cloud or just do poor work. Some names or faces came to mind didn’t they? Wonder when your face comes to mind in the minds of others.
Practice Generous Listening
We’re just generally not good listeners. Too often, we are waiting to talk. What if you could learn to focus not only what the other person is saying, but also on listening for his needs and wants- and for ways you might be able to help. Even if he is saying that he needs to find a good plumber, and you have one, that is a way to help that forms the foundation of a possible relationship. Even better, if you are able to provide a resource, a piece of information, or a key connection, you have just shown yourself to be a good listener who is genuinely interested in helping others. And who doesn’t need more people like that in their network?
The wonderful thing about networking is that once you get the hang of it, and you integrate it into your daily rhythms, you will be surprised at all of the good that comes back your way- sometimes when you least expect it.
Just before I sat down to write this, I got a call from a guy I haven’t seen in three years and even then, I barely knew him. I did remember that I gave some career advice over coffee. He said he just heard of a project that might be a good fit for me and that he recommended me. The more you give, the more you get, even when you give with no expectation of reciprocity. Pretty good way to live if you ask me.
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